5 Things Your Tax Dollars Bought for the Pentagon in March
Social Security? Repair of our crumbling roads and bridges? Maybe even ... a space program? It's not always easy to see just exactly how the government is spending your tax dollars. But there's one arm of the U.S. government that does a particularly bang-up job of keeping taxpayers in the loop, relaying up-to-the-minute reports not only of how much money it spends, but what it spends this money on -- down to the penny.
Believe it or not, we're talking about the Pentagon.
Despite its reputation as a somewhat secretive organization, the Pentagon is actually one of our most "open" government agencies. Every day of the week, the Department of Defense tells U.S. taxpayers what contracts it's issued, to whom and for how much -- all right out in the open on its website. Whether it's Jeeps or fighter jets, rifles or robots that the Pentagon's buying, they tell you about it openly.
And now we're going to tell you about it, too.
What Your Tax Dollars Bought in March
In the month just ended, the Pentagon reported awarding contracts totaling $13.81 billion. (Surprisingly, that was actually a bit less than the Pentagon spent in the shorter month of February.) And what did they get for their (read: your) money?
Look! Up In the Sky!
Well, for one thing, a whole lot of aircraft -- of all shapes, sizes, and piloting configurations. For example, on March 16, the Army placed an order for 19 Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles. They got a good deal on these upgraded "Predators," too, paying manufacturer General Atomics only $132 million for the lot. (In contrast, military tech website Deagel.com puts the average purchase price of Gray Eagle at $14 million a unit.)
In other aerial acquisition news, the Air Force bought a single King Air 350 surveillance aircraft from Beechcraft for $27 million, and one HC-130J Combat King II for $73 million.
And to upgrade the aircraft we've already got, late in the month, the Air Force placed a monster $485 million with Lockheed Martin (LMT) to supply its fighter jets with new "Sniper" advanced targeting pods.
160 Humvees -- but Not for Us
The Pentagon buys weapons not just for us, but for our allies, too. Case in point: On March 12, the Defense Department announced it will be spending $32 million to acquire 160 Humvees for the Iraqi Army. (Let's hope they can hang on to this batch a bit longer.)
Hovercraft. Honest-to-Goodness Hovercraft
We do, however, tend to keep the coolest toys for ourselves. Things like... hovercraft. Just before the month was out, the Pentagon awarded defense contractor Textron (TXT) an $84 million contract to build it a pair of "Landing Craft, Air Cushions," generally referred to by their acronym: LCAC.
Whether you knew it or not, we actually already have hovercraft in the inventory. (The Marines use them for amphibious assaults on beaches.) But the ones we've got are wearing out, so now it's time to order some replacements.
Robots for the Army -- but Not the Kind of Robots You Think
And speaking of cool toys, one of the biggest contracts awarded all month went to the purchase of... robots.
No, not those kinds of robots. Not Terminators, but Army medics. Specifically, the Defense Logistics Agency placed an order with robotic-assisted surgery specialist Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) to supply it with a whopping $430 million worth of "surgical robotic systems, instruments, accessories and upgrades" over the next five years. With that single order, the U.S. Department of Defense became one of Intuitive Surgical's biggest customers -- worth 4 percent of the company's annual revenue stream.
And last but not least...
Shhh! Top Secret!
Mind you, the Pentagon does keep some secrets. National security dictates that when vagueness is called for, vagueness is what we'll get. And that's the case with the final contract we'll highlight for you today:
On March 3, the U.S. Special Operations Command signed a five-year contract with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to perform research into "theoretical analyses, exploratory studies, and/or experiments in various fields of science and technology... and engineering."
We know how much the Pentagon is spending on this one: $405 million. What we don't know is what they're cooking up. (Ray guns and cloaking devices, perhaps?) One thing's for sure, though. If the research pans out and turns into real products that can be bought, you'll be able to read all about them on the Pentagon's website. Eventually.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith is keeping an eagle eye out for news that the Army's buying a Terminator robot -- but he hasn't seen it yet.Follow him on Facebook for more defense news. He has no position in any stocks mentioned, but The Motley Fool recommends Intuitive Surgical and owns shares of Textron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.